Every so often I get frustrated or discouraged – because I have 3 young horses to teach and there’s only one of me!
Audelina has now reached the point where she will leave the other three and go out on the road with me – which I really enjoy, since I love adventure and exploring (as does Aude). But the two young boys (2 years old) can get very amped-up if I take them out on the road alone, away from their herd. Sometimes I’m up for that, but often, I just don’t have the energy required to do that and keep us both safe.
I am also not a big fan of arenas. So that means if I’m working/playing with one horse in the field, I have at least 1 or 2 others monkeying about, or sometimes driving away the one I’m trying to do something with.
Luckily, challenges like this also lead to creativity.
So today we started off with some 5-Minute Fun in the barn with the bareback pad and its hanging straps, while the horses ate at the slow feeder. I put the pad on Audelina first, so her younger brothers could see the pad on someone’s back. Then I moved it to little Jax:
As Montaro was so interested, I put it on his back next. You can see he’s not real thrilled about it, but not bothered enough to stop eating or pull it off:
Montaro then drives Jax away from the slow feeder, and instead of going to another feeder, Jax just stands by the entrance to the barn. This now spurs an idea: Hey, since Jax and I are not keen on going out on the road without the others, what if I just ask him to come around the field with me?
I feel into, rope or halter? and my gut says, ‘rope’. So I go get a rope and loop it round Jax’s neck and he happily follows me out into the field:
As he walks, he’s not real sure about the pad on his back, but he’s willing to play the game:
After 5 minutes or so, Montaro comes out and comes straight over to investigate. So I give Montaro a turn. Now, Taro initially had no objection to a halter, but later developed a fair amount of resistance to halters and ropes from being forced into a trailer, castrated, and then a surgery on his foot.
So now that he allows me to put a rope or halter on him again (after a couple months of saying No), I am careful to keep it a positive experience for him, as I seek to re-establish halters and ropes as being enjoyable items that lead to fun and adventure. So you can see here how I am only loosely holding one end and letting him chew/hold the other – because that’s what he wanted to do:
And when he doesn’t want to be led around at all, and just wants to graze, that’s fine too:
Now the fun begins as Jax wants to play with the rope:
Because I approach all “training” as fun collaborative learning, I flow with what the horses bring to each experience.
As I watch them play I realize that this is actually a fantastic way to build some new neural pathways in Montaro’s brain that ropes are FUN and not evil or nasty.
Look how the rope is wrapped around Montaro’s face here. But it is a game, it is Montaro’s choice and so he is enjoying himself in the midst of restriction from the rope – awesome! He’s also completely forgotten about the pad on his back.
We end the collaborative learning session by putting the bareback pad onto Audelina’s back and the rope around her neck and she happily, loosely, follows me the entire length of the field up to the road. The rest of the herd follows along behind us. When we get to the road, I hop the fence and go out on the road and pick them bunches of fresh grass. Does it get any more fun than that??
The wonderful thing, for me, about 5-Minute Fun collaborative learning (and I do not use treats, only praise and scratches), is that it is endlessly creative and I have no idea what we’re going to do on any given day. Which I love! It always starts with a spark of an idea about something that might be fun or enjoyable, and then each increment of experiential learning flows organically from there.
I have a very low boredom threshold. If I had to use any kind of step-by-step, codified training system I wouldn’t be able to stand the repetition, confinement or boredom for even one horse, let alone three!
By just doing what seems fun – that will incorporate skills I want them to have, so that we can keep making our world bigger, leading to more adventures and more fun together – the path of learning becomes enjoyable, fresh, and creative. It is also an approach that results in my horses leaving their herd to be with me, not because I’m luring them with treats, but because I’m just so much darn fun!
We have many studies showing that fun and enjoyment increase not only the rate of learning, but also the retention, in both children and adult humans – so why would animals (who are all about play) be any different?
When we give ourselves permission to “train” our horses in this way, the process transforms into a liberating, creative, life-expanding, joyful experience for all of us. It is an experience of horses as a spiritual journey, equine therapists, and agents of transformation. Because really, what human would not benefit from more play and lightness in their life?
I come away from experiences like this with a bubbling joy in my chest and a deep peace running through my body. The horses are light and free. That’s what I call a win-win!